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Living Faith

We hold these truths to be…

Created date

June 25th, 2013
Declaration of Independence

Sacred. This was the adjective that Thomas Jefferson wrote in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, contends that “by using the word ‘sacred,’ Jefferson had asserted, intentionally or not, that the principle in question—the equality of men and their endowment by their creator with inalienable rights—was an assertion of religion.”

The language of the Declaration shows that the framers believed that a religious world view would unite the new nation. Religious references besides “creator” include “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,” and the crowning sentence, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Self-evident. Benjamin Franklin, one of Jefferson’s editors, scratched out the word “sacred” and replaced it with the phrase that we are so familiar with. Franklin was not being anti-religious. After all, he and the other editors inserted “their Creator” to replace Jefferson’s “equal creation.” But the change to “self-evident” was significant. Michael Metzger of the Clapham Institute writes, “Jefferson was willing to acknowledge that our rights are based on holy revelation. Franklin said no, they are based on human reason….He was not dismissing religion; he was limiting it to whatever [corresponds with] human reason.” Metzger would prefer “these truths are sacred and self-evident” to show that faith and reason are mutually supportive.

Inclusive. This is perhaps the best way to describe the Declaration’s religious language. Note how theologically vague and nondenominational the phrases are, and how Franklin’s edit introduces rationalism. The authors were careful to “have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation” writes Michael Meyerson, author of Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America. “It was a quintessentially American achievement—specific enough to be embraceable by those with orthodox religious views but broad enough to permit each American to feel fully included and equally respected.”

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